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Cuyahoga County Council passes anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ community

September 26, 2018

Cuyahoga County Council passes anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ community

CLEVELAND, Ohio — Cuyahoga County Council on Tuesday passed legislation that protects the LGBTQ community from discrimination and creates a commission with the power to level fines if it finds discrimination did occur.

The legislation — proposed by County Executive Armond Budish and sponsored by council members Dan Brady, Yvonne Conwell, Michael Houser, Dale Miller and Sunny Simon — passed by an 8-3 vote along party lines. Republicans Nan Baker, Michael Gallagher and Jack Schron voted against the legislation.

The ordinance offers protections to people on the basis of the already-protected classes of race, color, religion, military status, national origin, disability, age, ancestry, familial status or sex, and adds sexual orientation and gender identity or expression to that list. 

The protections target equal access to employment, housing, and public accommodations, including access to public bathrooms and locker rooms.  

It also creates the three-person Cuyahoga County Commission on Human Rights. If someone believes they have been discriminated against, they will be able to take that complaint to the commission, which could level civil penalties, award attorney fees, and order individuals to stop engaging in discriminatory practices if it determines that discrimination occurred.

By adding protections for people on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity and expression, Cuyahoga County joins 20 municipalities in Ohio with similar protections. Six of those communities are in Cuyahoga County: Cleveland, Cleveland Heights, East Cleveland, Lakewood, Olmsted Falls and South Euclid. State law does not offer these protections.

The legislation has drawn fierce support and criticism since the idea was introduced to council in June.

Opponents have cited religious arguments, fears about transgender people using bathrooms that don’t correspond to their biological sex, and concerns about small businesses navigating new regulations.

Advocates have argued that the legislation is needed to ensure equality and civil rights in Cuyahoga County. They also say the measure will attract business and talent to the region.

The Republican Party of Cuyahoga County opposed it, and the Cuyahoga County Democratic Party supported it. Both encouraged their members to speak about it before county council on Sept. 12, leading to one of the largest crowds to publicly comment on any initiative at a council meeting

An even larger crowd turned out for public comment again on Tuesday, with about 80 people speaking for and against the legislation as council prepared to pass it. County officials estimated that at least roughly 220 people attended the meeting.

Cuyahoga County Republican Party Chairman Rob Frost told council during the meeting that a new law is not needed to send the message that discrimination, intimidation and bullying is wrong, but said the legislation “tramples religious freedom.”

Subodh Chandra, an attorney who has argued discrimination cases, favored the legislation and called arguments against it the result of hate or ignorance. He said he was often frustrated when he had to inform LGBTQ clients they had no legal remedies after a business discriminated against them.

“This legislation begins to build the type of environment that, in the long-term, could start to impact this (discriminatory) activity,” Councilman Pernel Jones said. “We can’t legislate people’s hearts and minds, but we can start to move the needle in the right direction.”    

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